Whale of a Whale Shark tour!
Day 7: The Whale shark day was finally here. As we sat out on the balcony awaiting the arrival of the sun we were both pleasantly surprised to find that we felt as good as we did. The early night and (although I didn’t remember it) downing several bottles of water before going to sleep seemed to have done the trick. The first hints of color began to illuminate the sky and within minutes had turned the entire horizon a brilliant pink/red. For a brief instant I was worried the intense color was due to viewing it through bloodshot eyes, but Jr. assured me my eyes were clear. As we scanned the horizon waiting for the sun to appear Jr. noted this was the first morning that there were no billowy clouds out over the ocean. He was right, the sky, with the exception of a few wispy clouds was completely clear. I thought to myself this was already shaping up to be a special day. The fiery ball finally crested the horizon and I heard a whispered “wow” escape my son and as I looked to him I realized that as amazing as the sunrise was the look on his face had it beat and I sat there watching him basking in that red glow. Yeah it was going to be a good day!
We went back into the room, packed up our gear, downed another bottle of water, applied a liberal coating on biodegradable sun block and headed out to catch a cab. It was still a little early so we walked over to Super Express and grabbed a couple of croissants. I suggested we start walking in the direction of Jorge’s dock and we could flag down a cab along the way. It was a beautiful morning and he agreed it would be good to walk a little so we set off south down Medina taking our time walking along staring out across the bay and watching the island come to life. About the time we got to the Welcome to Isla Mujeres sign across from the statue of the whale shark we flagged down a cab and were at the gate to the dock in no time. Again we were the first to arrive at the docks and had actually beat Jorge and Dianne. Luis, one of Jorge’s crew was there making a pot of coffee and offered us each a cup. While we sat drinking the coffee we watched a fisherman, who had just returned with his catch, fillet two very large Queen Triggerfish and several good size Lionfish. Dianne arrived and joined us with a cup of steaming coffee. As we sat there chatting Randy and Karen arrived and soon after the other two couples going out with us came walking down the stairs. Last minute paperwork and finances for those who has only paid a deposit up front were taken care of and introductions were made all around.
While we were taking care of business Jorge returned from getting fuel for the boat and introduced himself to all. He called everyone over and laid out the plan for the day and also the rules. He stated there are basically two rules. Rule 1: Never touch the whale sharks! He went on to say he was going to put us in the best possible position to see as many sharks as are there and in very close proximity. He wanted us to keep at least three feet between us and the sharks at all times. Someone asked what happens if one of the sharks swims into us? His answer, move before they do. He said there is no such thing as accidentally touching a shark and the penalty for touching one is sitting in the boat for the rest of the day while everyone else has a fantastic time. The high level of respect Jorge has for the animals and the laws regarding their protection came through loud and clear. Rule 2: Always listen to what the captain says when you are on the boat. He made it abundantly clear, the safety of everyone on board as well as the safety of the animals we were viewing was his number one priority. He explained that the sharks had reappeared and yesterday there were between 50 and 70 animals seen in the area. He expected today would be equally as good if not better. Dianne came out and asked if anyone was interested in renting a snorkel mask with a built-in camera. She said they had several and in the past had yielded some great photos and video. I asked Jr. if he wanted to try one and he jumped at the chance. All four masks Dianne had available were rented and we loaded all our gear into the boat and were underway.
Rick, his son, Jorge & Luis, on heading out on their adventure!
The day was perfect, tons of sun, very little wind and calm seas, all of which made the ride out a great one. About a half an hour into the trip out Jorge throttled back the engines and pointed off the port bow. We all peered out and saw a group of ten or so dolphins surfacing just yards from the boats. Everyone made a mad scramble for their cameras and Jorge cruised slowly alongside the group for several minutes. While we all snapped one photo after the next and concentrating on the dolphins Luis spotted a very large green turtle just off the starboard side and everyone shifted across the boat. At one point Jr. looked and me and said this is awesome and we haven’t even got out to the whale sharks yet. After about 20 minutes we got underway again and continued heading far out to sea. The sharks were located about 22 miles out and when we were about 15 minutes away Jorge yelled down to everyone to gear up and get ready. When we were about 500 yards away Jorge throttled down and laid out the plan. He assigned the order we would be going in (Jr. and I were selected to be first in the water. He had us all look out to where the sharks were feeding and to take note of the number of boats in the area. There were at least twenty boats in the general area and he said some of the operators are what he considered unsafe and told us to stay with our guide Luis. He said he will pilot us to a great position and we are to be sitting on the back of the boat ready to jump in when he says. He will tell up to jump in and which direction to swim as we will not be able to see the shark. Jr. and I hopped over to the swim platform and assumed the position. Jorge guided the boat along and then came the call. “Go now! Swim Right!”We hit the water and swam hard right. Within about ten strokes there appeared this enormous white spotted fish about ten feet away. A quick check to see that Jr. and Luis were with me (both were within five feet) and I saw Luis motion to go for it. Jr. and I swam for the shark and within seconds were cruising five feet off the right side of this amazing creature. The shark was gliding effortlessly along the surface, mouth open wide, vacuuming in krill. We swam alongside for several minutes before the shark dipped below the surface and with one great sweep of its tail, disappeared into the deep. Jr. and I surfaced about ten feet apart and before he even had the snorkel out of his mouth he was yelling “did you see that” We swam back to the boat and climbed aboard. Everyone on the boat was clapping for us as they had a great view of how close we were able to get and congratulations were flowing. Next up was Randy and Karen and they assumed the position. Again Jorge skillfully maneuvered the boat into position and the command was given, this time to the left. Randy and Karen hit the water and found themselves staring into the open mouth of an oncoming shark. They turn and glided alongside for several minutes and returned to the boat. They same story played out for the other two couples. When Randy got out after the first dive he asked Jr. it he had been able to figure out how to switch the camera on the mask from stills to video and it was only then that Jr. had realized he was so excited he’d forgotten to snap a single photo. Randy laughed and said he’d done the same thing and by the time he realized it he’d forgotten the directions given by Dianne on its use. They huddled up and played with the cameras for a bit until they felt they knew how to make them work. Jr. and I were up again and as we stepped out onto the platform Randy told Jr. to remember to take some pictures. Seconds later we were in the water and tracking down another shark. After getting back on board Randy asked how Jr. had done. He checked the camera and announced he’d snapped 17 photos. As Randy and Karen stepped over the rail he looked back to Jr. and said “17 huh? Your setting the bar pretty high, but I’ll see what I can do”When he returned to the boat Jr. was waiting to give him a hand and check the count. Randy revealed 22 photos taken and the competition was on. After about two hours someone noticed we were the only boat left out on the water. Jorge said most of the boats go out early, give everyone a few turns in the water then head back in. Karen asked how much time we had left and Jorge replied the sun doesn’t set till about six so we have all day. On round three or maybe four Jr. spotted something that looked different and asked Jorge what he was looking at. A big grin came across his face as he announced to everyone we had just come across a group of about six large Manta Rays. He scooped up the pair in the water and positioned us right next to them. Between the whale sharks, Mantas, dolphins and the turtles this day couldn’t possibly have been any better. After everyone got a chance with the Mantas we all agreed it was time to head back in. The trip back seemed like it took 20 minutes as we were all so wrapped up in regaling all we’d seen. Before we knew it Jorge was dropping anchor just off Playa Norte. Everyone hopped in and cold cervezas were handed out to quench the thirst while Jorge prepared the most delicious shrimp ceviche. While he was prepping the ceviche he sent Luis swimming to shore and he returned with a whole roast chicken from Rosticeria La Mexicana. We all jumped back on board and dug into to an awesome feast. When every last bite had been consumed we all laid back reliving the experiences in our minds. Jorge asked if anyone was interested in a little snorkeling and we all said “really? Sure!” He pulled up anchor and took us out to the reef beyond Avalon where we snorkel for about half an hour. Once we were all back in the boat Jorge thanked us all for following all his directions throughout the day and asked for our opinion as to if we thought there was anything he could do differently to enhance the experience. We all looked at him like he was crazy. We had all just had one of the best days of our lives!